Saturday, January 10, 2015

Turning the Page: Interview in the Kathmandu Post's end of the year edition

Here is the link to The Kathmandu Post, where this interview was  published.

1. As a woman writing in English in South Asia, how do you see the
future of female writers writing in English in the sub-continent,
including Nepal? Or is gender a non-issue?
I think the future holds lots of potential. India is the largest
English market for writers, and it is next door. China's also
upcoming. The problem in Nepal is piracy. Bookstores own their own
printing presses, and they don't want to pay writers. This means even
if your book sells very well, you are not going to get any royalties.
This is a disincentive for writers. It takes a lot of time to write
one book-if people don't get paid, they are not going to do it. This
is the major obstacle to publishing's growth inside Nepal.

2.  To be a writer writing in English in a nation whose primary
language is not English, do you struggle to answer at times who you
are writing for? Does this bother you?
I don't write for any specific audience in mind. I think there's going
to be an audience, no matter which language you write in, if the
writing is good and the stories have soul. It does bother me at times
when I look at the bookstores and the booksellers will proudly display
all the Western writers, but sell my book illegally under the counter.
I also get a lot of underhand abuse for the market because they see me
as someone causing trouble by raising the issue of royalty and
copyright-they are getting books for free, why should they pay this
pesky writer? This seems wrong to me. The government has to make book
piracy illegal by making it mandatory for bookshops to document and
record the number of books sold. People have to stop supporting the
culture of piracy, if we are to allow our new generation to express
themselves, and write our histories.

3. You are a writer, a filmmaker and a critique of art. How has the
multi-disciplinary approach in art worked for you?
I think its all connected. There were no genre boundaries during the
Renaissance in Europe-the same people were scientists, engineers,
inventors, healers, writers, poets, and alchemists!  Leonardo da Vinci
is a favorite of mine because he did so many things, and did them
well. He embodies these ideas of "sfumato"--without lines or borders.

 5. In your two short story collections, travel and movement appears be the central themes? 
You are also currently working on a book on
Nepali migrants in Thailand and Burma. Any particular reasons for this
obsession, to put it strongly, with migration?
Travel is a way to explore your own inner world, by moving out of
one's comfort zone and entering other worlds. Nepali people are great
world travelers: I have met them in every nook and cranny of the globe
where I've traveled. I wanted to document this, so that's why I
focused on the Nepali diaspora in Burma. I was also reading a book
called "A Fortune-Teller told me", by Tiziano Terzani. Terzani, an
Italian journalist, goes around Asia documenting the changes he sees
through the lenses of a prediction he received from a fortune-teller.
The fortune-teller tells him he may die that year if he travels by
air, so he spends the year traveling around Asia through land routes,
and by boat. It's a very good travel book. I wanted to write a similar
book, since I am obsessed with jyotish astrology, and I wanted to
bring together the cultural linkages between Nepal, Thailand and
Burma. Interestingly, despite different history, politics and
religions, South and South-East Asia are bridged by the same belief
and tradition in astrology.

What should we look forward to from you, particularly in fiction? Any
novel in the offing?
I have published my second collection of short stories. Its titled
"The Prediction," and it brings together 8 short stories I wrote at
various points in my life. I finished a novel in 2006--it was a love
story set in Nepal's civil conflict. I met people from literary
agencies and publishers in England, but that did not work out because
they wanted me to substantially revise my book to fit the market. It
appeared to me the editors were swayed by hype, and weren't as
well-read as I expected them to be. There is little knowledge of Nepal
and its history, so it is considered an unimportant part of the
subcontinent. It also appears to me the publishing industry equates
demographical strength with talent. India and Pakistan are bigger
markets, so publishers are willing to bet on authors from there. They
may even lift plots and ideas and recast them to be stories from these
big-market countries! I'm not sure where this leaves Nepal--either we
have to create our own domestic market, which is not possible in the
current moment where piracy reigns. Or we have to create our own
international online market, which is what I'm trying to do with my
company Sansar Media. Bypassing traditional bookstores and marketing
directly on the web will be one option to new writers. But ultimately
there has to be respect for the act of writing, and respect for the
act of creation, which I find is missing not just in Nepal but also
rapidly vanishing in the commercialized mass market ethos that runs
Western publishing at present.